Re-printed from the Daily Astorian
By Edward Stratton
Published on November 25, 2016 10:47AM
Established in September, the nonprofit Riverfolk Homeless Coalition has experienced quick growth to become one of the region’s foremost advocates for those in need.
With about $15,000 worth of turkeys, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy from the Astoria Safeway’s Turkey Bucks fundraiser, the group became this year’s hub for Thanksgiving dinners, distributing food for more than 1,800 people and feeding more than 100 at the Astoria Armory Thursday.
Liz Bartell, one of Riverfolk’s five board members, said the group started as a gathering of like-minded friends and associates. On the board with her is Mike Doran, Nicole Adamczyk, Mary Docherty and Hilary Levine.
“We talked about the troubling … presence of people who were homeless in Astoria, and wanted to step forward and do something positive,” Bartell said.
Docherty said her husband, Scott, had produced an annual fundraising concert called Winterfolk for Sisters of the Road, a nonprofit cafe in Portland that has been feeding the homeless since the 1970s. The group attended the concert, she said, and decided to create their own, calling it Riverfolk, which the group held at Clatsop Community College’s Performing Arts Center in June.
Since then, the group has been focused on helping the homeless with the simple things of life.
‘I was nowhere’
Two weeks ago, Mary Tucker didn’t have an ID, which prevented her from doing anything as simple as going to the library or big like applying for a job or finding place to live.
“I was nowhere,” she said.
Tucker got in touch with Mary Docherty, who helped her navigate the process of getting a replacement birth certificate and a new ID, which Tucker has used to help her get a job and her own apartment.
“There’s nothing they can do without IDs,” Docherty said, adding she has now helped about eight people.
On Tuesday, she was fitting Tucker and her partner, Joshua Gianuario, with new rain gear, courtesy of a private donation to Riverfolk. Docherty said the people Riverfolk helps have taught her a huge amount about dignity and grace, and have become some of her best friends.
Tucker said she was left homeless months ago after fleeing an abusive partner. With help from groups like Riverfolk, she said, “I’m learning to come back up.”
In August, Riverfolk started its free 10 a.m. Sunday brunch at the Armory, which averages 13 people each week.
Docherty said she has a friend at the Astoria Safeway who heard about Riverfolk. The store chose the group as the recipient of the Turkey Bucks program. Checkers at the store gathered the donations throughout November.
Robyn Koustik, director of the Armory and an unofficial board member with Riverfolk, said the donation really hit home last weekend, when someone from Safeway called and said they had $15,000 worth of food that needed to be picked up.
“I just started calling agencies,” she said. “’Please take turkeys.’”
The group distributed nearly 200 turkeys to individual families and other social service groups. Volunteers with the group cooked another 20 or so turkeys at the North Coast Food Web and Columbia Memorial Hospital’s community center the day of the feast at the Armory.
Adamczyk said when the group learned there wouldn’t be any pies in the food donation, Riverfolk put a call out on Facebook, and by Thursday had a table full of donated deserts.
The Thanksgiving event had at least 35 volunteers, Koustik said, often outnumbering the diners.
Docherty said Riverfolk still has 18 turkeys left for future brunches. The group also has been chosen as the recipient of another of Safeway’s fundraisers, the Santa Bucks program, which is now raising money for Christmas meals.